Sunday, July 31, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 8.1.11

And just like that, it’s August. I can’t believe how quickly this summer has flown by. August is one of my favorite months for a couple of reasons: it’s the month my husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary (SEVEN YEARS!), and it’s the last month we have to get through before fall and (hopefully!) cooler temperatures arrive.

August is also the month that I take vacation from work, which is happening this week. Although we’re not going away anywhere this year, I’m looking forward to doing lots of fun things, like going to the state fair, taking the boys on their first hike, and finally seeing the new Harry Potter movie.

Because I’ll be on vacation, I’m giving myself permission not to cook. But I’ve planned meals for the week anyway, because I want to be prepared. Anything I don’t make this week will just be made next week.

And yes, there will be posts this week. I’ve got lots of yummy recipes to share with you, so be sure to check in!

Monday: Chipotle chicken kabobs with avocado sauce, rice pilaf, corn on the cob

Tuesday: Summer squash and corn chowder, grilled cheese sandwiches

Wednesday: Sweet potato and black bean foil packet tacos, Mexican sour cream rice

Thursday: BBQ bacon ranch chicken salad wraps, chips

Friday: Buffalo chicken tacos

Saturday: Pesto spaghetti with cheesy broiled tomatoes, garlic bread. I can't seem to find the recipe for the pesto spaghetti anywhere online, but I'm pretty sure I saw this idea in Every Day with Rachael Ray. You just add pesto to your cooking water halfway through the spaghetti's cook time, to infuse the pasta itself with pesto flavor. Or something like that.

Sunday: Baked chicken chimichangas, Mexican rice

Friday, July 29, 2011

Taco Macaroni and Cheese

Back in the days when I thought cooking meant “opening a box of this or that and adding some stuff to it and calling it dinner,” these are two of the dishes I used to make for me and Joe pretty often: 1.) Hamburger Helper cheeseburger macaroni topped with salsa and sour cream; and 2.) Velveeta shells and cheese with taco-seasoned ground beef added. Although I haven’t made either of these dishes for literally years, these are still two of the things Joe craves. When he mentioned this craving to me recently, I decided to make a somewhat less-processed hybrid version of the two dishes for him, and this taco macaroni and cheese was the result.

I must say, this mac and cheese was quite delicious, and definitely tastier than the made-from-a-box versions we ate so many years ago. It’s spicy and satisfying, and Joe was definitely a happy camper the night he had this for dinner. I’ll be making it for him whenever he requests it (which I’m sure will be often), because I loved it just as much as he did.

Taco Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound macaroni or shell pasta
1 pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 serving of taco seasoning (or 1 packet of store-bought seasoning mix)
1 cup salsa
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, cut into chunks
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend

1. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.

2. Meanwhile, brown ground beef and sweat the onion together in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the beef is completely cooked through, drain off excess fat, return to skillet, and add garlic. Cook and stir 30 seconds. Add taco seasoning and salsa and stir to combine; reduce heat to low.

3. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add cream cheese, milk, and sour cream and stir to combine. Cook until cream cheese is melted and mixture is thick and bubbling. Stir in shredded cheese.

4. Add cheese sauce and ground beef mixture to pasta and stir to combine. Top each serving with salsa and sour cream, if desired.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bacon- and Cheese-Stuffed BBQ Chicken

With only four ingredients, including the chicken itself, this dish could not be any easier to throw together. It should be apparent to you by now how much I love stuffing chicken, and when I saw this recipe on Carrie’s Sweet Life, I was inspired to get my stuff on yet again. (Yes. Yes I did just say that.)

Here’s the thing: I’ve never had luck wrapping bacon around things. I don’t really like the texture of the bacon when I cook it that way, so I decided to change up the recipe a bit – work with the same ingredients, but put them together in a different way. I ended up frying the bacon, stuffing both it and the cheese inside the chicken, giving the chicken a quick fry in the bacon grease, dousing it with BBQ sauce, and finishing it in the oven. It was sooooo good. It will be making many repeat appearances in my kitchen.

Bacon- and Cheese-Stuffed BBQ Chicken
adapted from Carrie’s Sweet Life

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to taste
4 strips of bacon, diced
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup BBQ sauce

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add bacon to a large skillet over medium heat. Cook to desired crispness; remove to paper towels to drain. Reserve bacon grease.

3. Meanwhile, cut into each chicken breast horizontally, making a pouch for stuffing (be sure not to cut entirely through the breast).

4. Stir together bacon and cheddar cheese, and stuff about a tablespoon of the mixture into each chicken breast pouch (add as much filling as you can stuff in there; it’s delicious!). Secure with toothpicks, if necessary. Season each side with salt and pepper.

5. Add chicken to bacon grease and cook until browned on both sides. Transfer to an oven-safe dish, top with BBQ sauce, and bake until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Smoked Sausage Pierogi Bake

Hey, remember that bacon pierogi bake my family loves so much? Well, I was so excited when I saw this recipe, which uses smoked sausage instead of bacon and changes the recipe up in a few other little ways. This is such a delicious adaptation of the original casserole. Smoked sausage is such a natural pairing with pierogies, and it works great with the other ingredients in this dish.

It may not really seem like a summer sort of meal, but smoked sausage is on sale a lot during the summer, and this is a great way to use it. Although I still think I prefer the bacon version, this is a hearty, delicious alternative.

Looks like a hot mess. Tastes delicious.

Smoked Sausage Pierogi Bake
adapted from Lemons and Love

1 16-ounce package frozen potato and cheese pierogies
1/2 pound smoked sausage, cut into small pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Green onions, thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the frozen pierogies in a baking dish coated with cooking spray.

2. In a large skillet, cook smoked sausage over medium heat until edges are browned and crispy. Add garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add cream cheese, chicken broth, diced tomatoes and pepper. Heat through until cream cheese is melted.

3. Pour the smoked sausage-cream cheese mixture evenly over the pierogies. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes until thoroughly heated. Add cheddar cheese; bake an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with green onions.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Tortilla Chips

Fruit salsa is one of those things I love so much that it came as a bit of a shock to me when I realized I'd never made it myself. When I saw this recipe on Carrie's Sweet Life, I knew I had to remedy that, and soon. Fresh, sweet fruit salsa, paired with homemade cinnamon tortilla chips? Yes please!

I can't even begin to describe how delicious this salsa is. It's sweet and tangy and so incredibly decadent. The cinnamon chips are irresistible (and addictive!) on their own, but pairing them with the fruit salsa takes them to a completely new level. This was a huge hit with everyone who tried it, and I will definitely, absolutely, certainly be making it over and over again.

I adapted Carrie's recipe to fit our tastes, and you can adapt it to fit your tastes too. Use whatever seasonal fruits you like -- peaches would taste amazing in this salsa. You're going to love it!

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Tortilla Chips
adapted from Carrie's Sweet Life

For the salsa:

1 pint fresh strawberries, stemmed, hulled and cut into chunks
1 kiwi, peeled and chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons sugar, divided

For the cinnamon tortilla chips:

5 flour tortillas, cut into triangles
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. For the salsa: In a large bowl, combine kiwi, apples, and all but 1/4 cup strawberries. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar and stir to combine. In a blender, combine remaining 1/4 cup strawberries, lemon juice, lime juice, and remaining 1 teaspoon of sugar. Pulse until liquefied and add puree to fruit. Refrigerate until serving.

2. For the tortilla chips: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay tortilla triangles on baking sheet. Brush with melted butter. Stir together sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle each tortilla. Flip each tortilla and brush the other side with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. Bake for 15 minutes in preheated oven or until crunchy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hot Bean and Cheese Dip

Bean dip is one of those things I just can’t stay away from at parties or get-togethers where it’s served. I’ve had my eye on this particular dip for a while, and I thought it would be the perfect complement to our Mexican hot dogs. It was! This dip is really, really delicious, and dangerously addictive too. Next time I make it will have to be for a party, because it’s just too dangerous for me and Joe to have it all to ourselves.

Now I'm going to go back to chuckling at the picture (which looks to me like a sailboat tortilla chip navigating a sea of bean dip) and wishing I had a bowl of this for lunch today.

Hot Bean and Cheese Dip
adapted from The Sweets Life

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
1 can refried beans
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup shredded Mexican cheese

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and jalapeno. Saute until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Stir in the beans and cook until smooth. Add the sour cream, cumin, chili powder, salt, and cheese, stirring until cheese is melted.

3. Transfer to a bowl and serve hot with tortilla chips.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 7.25.11

It’s too hot to cook. It’s too hot to even think about cooking. And it’s definitely too hot to construct masterful, creative dishes for us to eat. So this is an easy-peasy, cleaning-out-the-pantry-and-fridge sort of week for us. Everything is quick, easy, and certifiably delicious.

Monday: Ranch macaroni and cheese, steamed broccoli

Tuesday: Sloppy joes, corn on the cob

Wednesday: Buttermilk pancakes with peach butter, eggs, sausage patties

Thursday: Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, fries

Friday: We’ll be attending the rehearsal dinner for a wedding on Saturday (the boys are ring-bearers, complete with little tuxes, and they look unspeakably cute in their formalwear).

Saturday: Dinner at the wedding reception

Sunday: Egg and cheese breakfast tacos, hash browns

Friday, July 22, 2011

Watermelon Lemonade

I’m going to be honest with you: I’m pretty irritable today. My three-year-old woke me up for good at 4:00 this morning (after waking me up numerous times throughout the night), and the second I walked out of my house and the wall of heat and mugginess hit me, I knew there was no hope for the rest of the day. Eighty-four degrees at 7 AM is just WRONG, people. And 100+ degrees at any time of day is even more wrong – which is what the weather has been like here all week. So even though I already shared one watermelon recipe this week, I’m still sharing this lemonade today. I’m hoping that by talking about this cold, refreshing, delicious summer drink, my mood will improve and I won’t mind the heat so much when I have to go back out into it later today. Hey, I can dream.

Essentially, this lemonade is summer in a glass. It’s like drinking a sweet summer afternoon in liquid form, if that make sense. The watermelon and lemon flavors blend together so perfectly to make a drink that is both sweet and tart, and completely refreshing. My family went through a pitcher of this (which is what the recipe below makes) in no time, and we all just loved it. I could even be persuaded to add a shot of vodka to my glass next time, as my husband so cleverly suggested.

Watermelon Lemonade
from smitten kitchen

1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 cups fresh seedless watermelon puree (strain through a coarse strainer to remove seeds, if not using seedless watermelon)
3/4 cup simple syrup*
3 cups cold water

Stir all ingredients together and serve over ice.

* Simmer one part water with one part sugar (I used 3/4 cup of each) until sugar has dissolved. Let cool. Alternately, simmer one part sugar with half as much water and once it has dissolved, add the second half of the water, cold, which cools the mixture down faster.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pork Stir Fry with Cashew Rice

I have a lot of cookbooks. Like, a lot of them. Buying cookbooks became a sort of addiction for me back when we first bought our house and were remodeling our kitchen. Since I didn’t have a kitchen to cook in, I became obsessed with dreaming about all the recipes I’d try when the kitchen was finally finished. Plus, I was pregnant with my first son at the time, so I was constantly hungry. I guess what I’m saying is, I’ve cooked out of a lot of cookbooks.

If you asked me what my favorite cookbook is out of all of them, the answer may surprise you. It’s not the essential Betty Crocker or the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It’s Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2008. I’ve made tons of recipes out of this cookbook (and have nearly three-quarters of the recipes bookmarked to try in the future), and everything I’ve made has been beyond delicious. I could open that cookbook to any page and randomly pick a recipe, and I know it would be a hit.

So I wasn’t surprised when I tried this pork stir fry and it was the most delicious stir fry I’d ever made. The stir fry on its own is yummy (the sauce is a simple honey-soy sauce, and is divine), but my favorite part was the cashew rice. The crunch and saltiness of the cashews adds the perfect textural and flavor element to this dish. Without question, I’ll be making this again.

Pork Stir Fry with Cashew Rice
adapted from Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2008; original recipe also found on MyRecipes

1 cup instant white or brown rice
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup dry-roasted cashews, salted and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons honey
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
1 bag frozen stir-fry vegetable blend
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced

1. Cook the rice according to package directions. Stir in 1/3 cup chopped green onions, chopped dry-roasted cashews, and salt; set aside, and keep warm.

2. Combine 2/3 cup chicken broth, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, and honey in a small bowl, and set aside.

3. Combine pork, remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch, and the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce in a bowl, tossing well to coat. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork; sauté 4 minutes or until browned. Remove from pan.

4. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add stir-fry vegetables and sauté until crisp-tender. Stir in ginger and garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Stir in pork; sauté 1 minute. Add reserved broth mixture to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly. Serve over cashew rice.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shaved Asparagus Pizza

The problem with trying so many new recipes all the time is that I’m always inevitably way behind in sharing those recipes with you. This shaved asparagus pizza is a perfect example. I made it back in June, and we loved it, and now it’s at least a month later and I haven’t even posted the recipe yet. And for that, I really do owe you a huge apology, because this pizza is AMAZING. It’s so ridiculously good that I’m almost at a loss as to how to describe it to you. I wish I would have made two of these pizzas for us, because I think Joe and I both could have eaten an entire pizza on our own. This pizza will be a staple meal in our house for a long time to come, and I’d even feel comfortable serving it to dinner guests.

Asparagus is traditionally a spring vegetable, I know, but I just couldn’t wait until next spring to share this with you. Besides, asparagus is readily available in the supermarkets year-round. I maintain that there are few ingredients in the world more delicious than Boursin cheese, and when it’s paired with ribbons of asparagus and slathered on pizza, well…There are just no words.

Shaved Asparagus Pizza
adapted from Tasty Kitchen

1 batch of your favorite pizza crust, prepared according to recipe (I used a Pillsbury thin crust, prepared according to the direction on the package)
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded provolone cheese
1 bunch of asparagus, washed and trimmed
5 1/4 ounces Boursin cheese (or other garlic and herb spreadable cheese)
Fresh cracked black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If not already shaped, stretch your pizza dough into a large rectangle or circle 12 to 16 inches in diameter and place on your pizza pan or stone. Drizzle dough with a thin stream of olive oil.

2. Sprinkle mozzarella and provolone evenly over dough.

3. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into thin ribbons. Use the entire bunch, as you might only get 3 or 4 good ribbons from each spear. Pile asparagus shavings on top of the cheese.

4. Top asparagus with several cranks of black pepper and dot generously with Boursin cheese.

5. Bake on pizza stone or baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mexican Hot Dogs

Frankly (ha ha), I don’t think hot dogs really need to be dressed up. They are what they are, and, charred to perfection and topped with ketchup and mustard, I think they’re pretty much perfect. However, whenever I do get the urge to dress up a hot dog, this is the perfect way to do so. In this recipe they’re wrapped in bacon and topped with grilled jalapenos, onions, and a quick guacamole. They. are. delicious.

As you can see in the picture, my grillmaster husband didn’t quite grill the hot dogs long enough, because the bacon didn’t get nearly as crispy as I would have liked it to. I actually ended up unwrapping the bacon and eating the hot dog without it -- *gasp*. Joe has been instructed to make sure the bacon is crispy the next time we have these. If you’re worried about the same thing happening to you, you could definitely fry the bacon indoors and just lay a strip of it on top of each prepared hot dog.

Next time I’ll add some shredded cheese and salsa, too, which I’ve noted in the recipe below. These may be a little bit more complicated than a standard ketchup-and-mustard dog, but they’re definitely worth the time.

Mexican Hot Dogs
slightly adapted from Coconut and Lime

1 large white onion, sliced
6-8 jalapenos, halved and seeded
4 hot dogs
4 strips thick cut bacon
1 avocado
1 tablespoon sour cream
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded cheese and salsa for topping, if desired

1. Prepare grill. Lightly oil a grilling pan and arrange the peppers and onions in a single layer. Grill the onions and peppers until softened, flipping occasionally.

2. Wrap the hot dogs in bacon. Secure with toothpicks if needed and place on grill. Grill the hot dogs until the bacon is fully cooked.

3. While hot dogs are cooking, mash avocado. Stir in sour cream, lime juice, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Place the hot dogs in buns or rolls and top with toppings.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Watermelon Frozen Yogurt Popsicles

About 95% of the time, I don’t stage my food for photos. I love looking at gorgeous, staged food photography on other food blogs, but frankly, I just don’t have the patience to do it myself. Usually the photos you see on my site are taken right before I start eating. And usually while I’m taking them, there are two little boys clamoring for more of this or less of that in the background, and a husband who is very good about indulging my hobby but who also just wants to eat already. So I snap a couple of pictures and call it a day. Desserts are easier to stage, since I usually make sweets on the weekends and have more time to take pictures.

On a recent weekend, I made these watermelon frozen yogurt popsicles, and then I realized I had a dilemma on my hands: How in the world do you photograph a popsicle? After going back and forth for a while and trying different things, I decided I’d just take a picture of the popsicle in its natural habitat: my son’s mouth.

(Yes, he is currently in a phase where he always wants to wear his hair spiky. And yes, he is a very silly boy.)

We absolutely loved these popsicles, if you couldn’t tell from the photos. The watermelon juice is so sweet and refreshing, and the vanilla yogurt adds a delicious creamy element. This is a popsicle I can feel good about my sons eating. It’s a perfect summer treat, and I can’t wait to experiment with more variations!

Watermelon Frozen Yogurt Popsicles
slightly adapted from Debbi Does Dinner…Healthy and Low-Calorie

2 cups seedless watermelon, diced
1 6- to 8-ounce carton light vanilla yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar or sugar substitute

Blend ingredients in a blender or food processor and pour into molds. Freeze for at least 8 hours or overnight. Remove 5 to 10 minutes before serving so the popsicles can easily be removed from their molds. Makes 6 large or 12 small popsicles.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 7.18.11

Apparently I’m taking a trip around the world with my menu this week. There’s a classic American dish as well as some Mexican, Italian, and Greek ones. Mostly we’re staying in Mexico, though, which is perfectly fine with me.

Monday: Chicken fajita salad with poblano-buttermilk dressing. Everything about this recipe screams “summer” to me. This salad looks amazing and just the thought of poblano-buttermilk dressing makes my mouth water.

Tuesday: Cheeseburgers with caramelized onion and bacon jam, fries. I recently realized I haven’t made a burger for a while, and I thought this one looked delicious. Caramelized onions and bacon – what could be better than that? Yum!

Wednesday: Greek chicken orzo salad. For the past few weeks I’ve been positively craving a big Greek salad with all the fixings: cucumber, red onion, olives, feta cheese, red wine vinaigrette. Since we’re already having a salad this week, I thought I’d mix all those ingredients up with orzo pasta instead, and marinate and grill some chicken to go with it to make it heartier. I can’t wait for this meal!

Thursday: Roasted potato tacos and cilantro-lime rice. As soon as I saw these tacos over at Tastespotting, I knew they would be appearing on my table sooner rather than later.

Friday: Mac and cheese suiza. I’ll be using salsa verde instead of the fresh tomatillos to make this come together a little more quickly.

Saturday: Ranchero chicken crostada. Do I even need to mention how very far up my alley this dish is?

Sunday: Italian BLTs and roasted potatoes. I’m looking forward to trying this fun twist on BLTs that I dreamed up. I'll put some Italian seasoning on my usual roasted potatoes to tie them in with the rest of the meal. I'm sort of wishing I could fast-forward to this time next week so I'd be having this in a matter of hours instead of days! 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pulled Pork Nachos

I'm thrilled to be featured on Carrie's Sweet Life's Friday Favorites this week, and I'm sharing these pulled pork nachos with her readers. Head on over there for the recipe, and be sure to check out the rest of the recipes on Carrie's site!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bacon Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese

My older son, Andrew, ate anything that we put in front of him when he was an infant – and even when he was a young toddler. But now he’s three, and the list of foods he will eat has gotten significantly smaller. He’s not a picky eater, exactly, but he’s definitely developing a strong sense of what he likes and what he doesn’t (and what he refuses to try). Three of the things he most definitely does like are macaroni and cheese, broccoli, and bacon (he is my kid, after all), so I made this macaroni and cheese just for him, combining those three things. I had success with the pizza mac and cheese, so I thought he’d like this one too. And I was right. Both of my boys (and Joe and I, too) devoured it. I mean, there’s really nothing not to love.

One of the things I usually do when I make stovetop macaroni and cheese is use cream cheese as the thickening agent rather than butter and flour. I use a brick of cream cheese (I usually use reduced fat) in addition to a couple of cups each of milk and cheese, and it always works out perfectly for me. I love a really creamy macaroni and cheese, and this is a great way of achieving that texture. Healthy? No. Delicious? A resounding YES!

Bacon Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound short pasta
1/2 pound bacon, chopped
1 8-ounce brick cream cheese, cut into chunks
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded colby-jack blend cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 head broccoli (or 1 bag frozen, steam-in-a-bag broccoli)
1 tablespoon butter

1. Cook pasta according to directions on package in boiling salted water.

2. Meanwhile, add bacon to a high-sided skillet and cook until crisp. Drain on paper towels.

3. Drain all but about 1 tablespoon of bacon grease from the skillet. To the same skillet, add cream cheese and milk and stir to combine. Cook until cream cheese is melted and mixture is thickened and bubbling. Stir in cheeses. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

4. While the sauce is cooking, steam the broccoli until crisp-tender. Stir in butter.

5. Combine cooked pasta, broccoli, and half of the bacon. Pour cheese sauce over and stir to combine. Top individual servings with the reserved bacon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Strawberry Cashew Chicken Salad

Here’s a question for all of you food bloggers and home cooks out there: Do you ever daydream about writing a cookbook? It’s something I do pretty frequently. In my head, I break my cookbook down into categories and list out the recipes that would go in each section. I realize that there’s a lot more work involved in the process than that, but hey, it’s fun to dream. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually do it! :)

If I were writing a cookbook, this is definitely one of the recipes that would be in it. A few months ago, I had some cashews on hand that I’d bought for another recipe, and I was trying to think of some creative things to do with what I had left – rather than feeding them all to Andrew for a snack, which was the choice that he advocated. For some reason I thought of using cashews in chicken salad instead of walnuts, and adding in some strawberries instead of grapes. I thought the flavors would work really well together, and they absolutely did. The salty cashews and sweet strawberries and tangy, sweet dressing made this variation on chicken salad incredibly delicious. I served ours on wheat toast with bacon, and I loved the additional salty, smoky element that the bacon provided. I’m incredibly proud of this recipe!

Strawberry Cashew Chicken Salad

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked shredded chicken
1/2 cup cashews, chopped
1 cup strawberries
1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced

Whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed. Add chicken, cashews, strawberries, and green onions. Serve on bread or over lettuce. Refrigerate before and after serving.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Better Than "Anything" Cake

I think we’re all well aware of what this cake is really called, am I right? I’m just calling it better than “anything” because I don’t want to get hits or spam comments from people expecting something else, if you know what I mean. This is a family place! :)

ANYWAY, this cake really is better than just about anything. Devil’s food cake is topped with sweetened condensed milk, hot fudge sauce and caramel. Add some whipped cream and some chopped Butterfinger bars, and the end result is a moist, rich, decadent treat. If you’d never made this, find an excuse to do so. Soon.

I’ve seen different versions of this cake. Some versions leave out the caramel or the hot fudge, while this version incorporates both. Some versions use Heath bars, but this version use Butterfinger bars. This is just our family’s favorite way to make this cake. And honestly, you really can’t go wrong with any combination of these ingredients.

Better Than “Anything” Cake

1 box devil’s food cake mix
Water/oil/eggs called for on cake mix box
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 jar caramel ice cream topping
1 jar hot fudge ice cream topping
1 8-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed
3 Butterfinger bars, chopped

1. Prepare cake mix according to directions on box for 9 x 13-inch cake.

2. While cake is still warm, poke holes in it with a wooden spoon. Pour evaporated milk, caramel, and hot fudge over cake.

3. Spread whipped topping evenly over cake and sprinkle with Butterfinger bars. Chill until serving.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 7.11.11

I've been feeling uninspired with my meal-planning lately. This happens to me every once in a while. I sit down to plan out our weekly menu, and my mind is completely blank. I usually use weeks like this to comb my starred items in Google Reader for ideas, and I never fail to find something that sounds delicious. So I'm pretty happy with how the meal plan turned out this week.

Monday: Pepper jack, chicken, and peach quesadillas, Mexican sour cream rice. I got some yummy peaches from the farmers' market yesterday, and as long as I can resist them for the next couple of days, I'm excited to use them in these quesadillas.

Tuesday: Brats, sauerkraut, French fries. Yes, that's right: Brats again. I told you we eat them a lot during the summer! Plus, my younger son apparently loves sauerkraut, so it'll be a good excuse for him to eat some. I know, who knew?

Wednesday: Mexican chicken lettuce wraps. The recipe calls for these to be served cold, but I'm planning on serving them warm and changing up the ingredients a little bit.

Thursday: BBQ chicken and cole slaw wraps, chips. Joe still has his softball games on Thursdays, so this meal will be something really quick I can make for us before he has to leave.

Friday: Avocado eggs benedict with chipotle hollandaise and hash browns. This is the meal I'm most looking forward to the whole week!

Saturday: Caribbean jerk chicken tacos, roasted sweet potatoes

Sunday: Tomato, caramelized onion, and brie galette, salad

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturdays with Rachael Ray: Egg Tostada Frittata

Some recipes I see and I just think to myself, “I have to make that as soon as possible.” That’s how I felt when I saw Rachael Ray make this dish on a recent episode of 30 Minute Meals. My family’s love of Mexican food is no secret, and we love having breakfast-for-dinner, so this egg tostada frittata was right up our alley.

This dish definitely did not disappoint. It came together quickly and tasted absolutely delicious – spicy and cheesy and salty. I loved the refried beans on top; they added tons of flavor and texture. I made some changes to Rachael’s recipe (skipped the homemade salsa and lettuce; used green chiles instead of Fresnos and Fritos for the tostada element because I had them on hand), and this turned out exactly like I was hoping. This will be a go-to weeknight dinner for us from now on, I can promise you that!

Check out Taste and Tell's Saturdays with Rachael Ray for more great recipes!

Egg Tostada Frittata
adapted from 30 Minute Meals

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 slices bacon, finely diced
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 4-ounce jar chopped green chilies, drained
10 large eggs
1 tablespoon hot sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 handfuls Fritos or other tortilla chips
1 can refried beans
1 cup shredded pepper-jack cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Salsa and sour cream for serving, if desired

1. Preheat a 10 to 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat with extra-virgin olive oil. Also preheat the broiler with the rack positioned in the middle of the oven.

2. To the hot oil add the bacon and render, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onions and chilies and cook about 4 to 5 minutes to soften them.

3. Beat the eggs with the hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Lightly crush the Fritos and add them to the pan, pour the eggs overtop, and stir to combine. Settle the eggs and lightly brown them, then transfer the pan to the center of the oven and broil the eggs for 6 to 7 minutes, or until lightly golden.

4. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the refried beans with a splash of water to thin them out.

5. Remove the eggs from the oven and spread the refried beans overtop, stopping 1-inch from the edge all around. Top with shredded cheese and return to the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes to melt the cheese. Remove from oven and serve with salsa and sour cream, if desired.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken with Grape Sauce

Goat cheese is one of my absolute favorite ingredients. I just love the tangy, sharp flavor of it. Thankfully, my husband shares the goat cheese love (and so do my boys, so far, *fingers crossed*), so I can cook with it as much as I want to. I’ve had this recipe on my list to try for a while now, and I just knew we were going to like it. Goat cheese and fruit of almost any kind is always delicious to me; the sweetness and tanginess play off of each other so perfectly.

This dish is absolutely delicious. The thyme and balsamic vinegar go perfectly with the goat cheese and the grapes. Joe said he would have preferred cold grapes sliced over the top to the warm sauce, but I loved the sauce. With the grapes and the balsamic, it tasted a lot like wine sauce. Next time I’ll be sure to leave some of the grapes unsauced, just for him.

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken with Grape Sauce
adapted from YumSugar

6 ounces goat cheese, softened
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, divided
4 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups red seedless grapes, halved
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1. Mix goat cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of the thyme in small bowl until well blended. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions.

2. Carefully slice crosswise through the thickest part of each chicken breast, creating a pocket, being careful not to slice completely through. Place goat cheese stuffing evenly into the pocket. Season chicken with sea salt and pepper.

3. Heat oil in large oven proof skillet on medium heat. Add chicken and cook 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

4. Transfer skillet to oven. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

5. Meanwhile, toss grapes, onion, vinegar, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of thyme in medium bowl. Remove chicken from skillet; keep warm. Drain oil from skillet. Add grape mixture; cook until heated through.

6. To serve, place a chicken breast on each plate and spoon grape mixture over chicken.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Herb and Brie Omelet

I love cooking up omelets for a quick breakfast or dinner, although I very rarely stray from the typical ham and cheese or Denver variety. But when I saw this recipe, it immediately spoke to me. Actually, I think it was the brie specifically that spoke to me. Brie is always speaking to me, saying things like, “Eeeaaat me. I am decadent and irresistible.” Oh, that brie.

The combination of creamy, luscious brie and bright, fresh herbs makes this omelet much more special and fancy than an everyday omelet, but it’s just as quick and easy to prepare. It was absolutely every bit as delicious as I hoped it would be.

You may notice in the picture above that I went slightly overboard with the brie. But it’s not my fault. The brie told me to use more than the amount listed in the recipe. I couldn't say no. When brie speaks, you listen.

Herb and Brie Omelet
adapted from Betty Crocker

2 large eggs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
Dash hot sauce
1 ounce brie cheese, rind removed and sliced

1. Combine the eggs, basil, parsley, thyme, milk, salt, pepper and hot sauce in a mixing bowl. Whisk well to combine.

2. Heat small nonstick skillet over medium heat. (Skillet should be hot before pouring in egg mixture.) When skillet is hot, spray with nonstick cooking spray.

3. Pour egg mixture into skillet and allow it to cook, without stirring, until egg is almost set. Place cheese slices down center of egg; fold sides of the omelet over to cover cheese. Cover pan; continue to cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Spice-Rubbed Chicken over Spaghetti with Salsa Verde Cream Sauce

If you’re anything like me, most of you skipped right to the recipe after you read the words “salsa verde cream sauce” in the title, but I’ll go ahead and write some words here in case any of you need a little more convincing to try this dinner. :)

This meal is absolutely delicious. The chicken is rubbed in a combination of chili powder, cumin, and paprika, for a deep, smoky, spicy flavor. It’s placed atop spaghetti that’s been tossed with a luscious cream sauce flavored with salsa verde. I love pasta with cream sauce, but most of the ones I’ve eaten are obviously Italian in nature, and I love that this one has a Mexican spin. It’s so flavorful – a bit spicy but still sweet from the cream. The pasta itself would be delicious on its own, without the chicken, since to me the sauce is really the star of this dish.

Have I convinced you yet? Good. Here’s the recipe.

Spice-Rubbed Chicken over Spaghetti with Salsa Verde Cream Sauce
adapted from The Picky Apple; originally from Picky Palate

1 pound spaghetti or angel hair pasta
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse grind black pepper
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1finely chopped white onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup salsa verde
1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and run under cold water to stop cooking.

2. Place chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper into a small bowl, stirring to combine. Sprinkle over both sides of chicken, then rub. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large, oven-safe pot over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until browned on both sides, about 6 minutes each side. Place pot in oven and continue cooking for 15 minutes.

3. While chicken is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and pepper, cooking and stirring until tender, about 5 minutes. Add salsa, tomatoes, cream, sour cream and cilantro, stirring to combine. Add cooled pasta back to original large pot and pour sauce over top, stirring to combine. Reduce heat to low, stirring often.

4. When chicken is cooked through, remove and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut into slices. Spoon pasta in serving bowls and top with slices of chicken breast. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro if desired.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Candy Bar Cookies

After major candy-receiving holidays like Easter and Halloween, I always find myself with a surplus of treats in the house. There's absolutely no way my boys could ever eat all the candy they receive -- and I can't have it lying around for me to eat, either. No good can come of that. The solution? Chop it all up and put it in cookie batter. Then all the temptation is packed into one batch of cookies, and once they're gone, so is the temptation.

That's exactly what I did with the boys' surplus Easter candy this year (yes; I'm that far behind on posting). For this batch, I used a combination of lots of different treats to make crispy, chocolatey, decadent, perfectly textured cookies. They were pretty amazing, and I'm going to make them again this week with all the candy the boys retrieved during the Fourth of July parade (usually the parade candy isn't so great, but this time there was a lot of chocolate. Way to go, my town!).

If you're using candy that contains caramel (like the Twix bars and Snickers I used), be aware that the caramel will harden on you pretty quickly after these come out of the oven.  A few seconds in the microwave should help, or you can just make sure you chop the caramel candy finely and enjoy the crispy bits of it in the cookies, which is what we did.

This recipe uses 4 cups of chopped candy bars and yields 9 dozen cookies. Feel free to halve the recipe, or to freeze half of the dough for later.

Candy Bar Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups chopped candy bars

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.

3. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture.

4. Stir the candy bars gently into the dough. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until easy to handle. 

5. Drop by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Weekly Meal Planning, Week of 7.4.11

Happy Fourth of July! I’m posting the meal plan a day early because tomorrow I’ll be too busy enjoying the holiday festivities to post. The boys and I are actually heading out to a cook-out here in a couple of hours. I'm pretty excited!

I hope you all have a safe and happy Fourth of July, however you celebrate!

Monday: Cook-out for the Fourth of July. We always go to my husband’s grandparents’ house to watch our town’s parade, and after it's over we feast on grilled cheeseburgers and homemade ice cream for lunch. By dinnertime, we're still too stuffed to eat.

Tuesday: Taco rice. This is one of our favorite recipes, hands-down, and if you haven’t made this yet you really should.

Wednesday: Rosemary ranch chicken kabobs and corn and tomato risotto. Nothing screams summer to me like grilled chicken and risotto with corn and fresh basil. Yum!

Thursday: Greek-style chicken skillet

Friday: Chicken cheesesteaks and arancini made with leftover risotto. I’ve never made rice balls before, so I’ll be looking at some recipes online and formulating a recipe out of what I find. If you’ve made them and have any tips, please share!

Saturday: Chili in the Crock pot

Sunday: Chili dogs and French fries

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bacon Ranch Foil Packet Potatoes

I love using our grill for a couple of reasons: 1. I can make almost anything on it, with very little fat, and it always tastes delicious; and 2. My husband handles the grill, so on the nights we use it very little is required of me. I mostly love it for the first reason, but when you’re as busy as I am, the second thing is definitely a bonus too.

One of my favorite things (of, admittedly, many) to cook on the grill is potatoes in a foil packet. The packets themselves are so easy to put together, and the flavor of the end product really is amazing. I especially love it when the potatoes at the bottom – the ones closest to the grill flame – get a little charred and stick to the foil. I love crispy potatoes, so my husband is always kind enough to let me have the ones in his packet, too. He’s a pretty good guy, that one.

Jessie gave me this idea in one of her recent meal plans. I’m no stranger to using bacon in my foil packet potatoes – my favorite version of them has bacon in it – but I loved loved loved the idea of also using ranch dressing mix. These turned out just the way I was hoping; they were absolutely delicious. You could definitely add whatever additional ingredients you want – onions, parmesan or cheddar cheese – but I was pleased with just the bacon and ranch seasoning, and a little bit of sour cream on top for serving.

The recipe below makes three packets, which is plenty for our family because my sons share one. I wonder how much longer I'll be able to get away with that? :)

Bacon Ranch Foil Packet Potatoes
adapted from Mrs. Ca Cooks

3 sheets of heavy-duty foil
10-12 baby red potatoes, thinly sliced
6 slices of cooked and crumbled bacon
1 packet ranch dressing mix
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons butter
Sour cream for serving, if desired

1. Spray each sheet of foil with cooking spray. Top each piece with equal portions of potatoes, bacon, and ranch dressing mix. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to each serving. Wrap securely.

2. Grill for 20 to 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serve in foil, topped with sour cream if desired.

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